HEALTH & MEDICAL INFORMATION
It is very important to observe your hamster closely and give him a physical checkup on a regular basis in order to prevent any health issues potentially escalating to a level that may not be treatable or could require expensive treatment that could have been avoided if the matter had been caught early enough.
Please do not allow prolonged suffering that will ultimately affect other aspects of your hamster’s health or that could result in a painful death.
We are not veterinarians and always advise that you rather FIRST SEEK CONSULTATION WITH AN EXOTICS VET.
The following information is purely to provide insight and awareness of the most common ailments and interim tips, where possible, that may prevent the issue from escalating until you can get to your ex-vet.
Please refer to our Vet Directory page to find your closest exotics vet.
If you do not have such a vet in your town, it is possible to supply your regular vet with the contact details of one of these to consult with.
What to do in an emergency:
In an emergency try to stay calm. Note down the signs you are concerned about and contact your exotics vet as soon as you can. You can then discuss your pet’s symptoms with them and they can advise you on the best course of action.
Never self-medicate your hamster without first speaking to a vet. Each medication is different and acts in different ways on different animals. Some medications should not be given in certain situations and can make things worse.
PAGE MENU (click on a topic to go to):
Page is ongoing and more info will be added as and when topics are brought up and researched
COVID-19 (CORONAVIRUS) in South Africa: https://sacoronavirus.co.za/
COVID-19 and Animals:
Since hamsters can easily catch our colds, flu's, and other transmittable illnesses, we suggest that if you are tested positive for Coronavirus, you exercise extreme caution and preferably get someone else to handle their feeding and habitat matters.
If no other person is available to see to the basic needs of the hamster, we suggest that person wears a mask, clean shirt, and washes their hands and arms really well before and during attending to the food and such, and also minimise handling the hamster.
IMPORTANT: DO NOT USE HAND SANITISER BEFORE HANDLING YOUR HAMSTER, THESE PRODUCTS CONTAIN ALCOHOL, WHICH IS VERY DANGEROUS FOR HAMSTERS. EVEN IF YOU CANNOT SMELL THE SANITISER ANY MORE, WASH YOUR HANDS!
FIVE MOST COMMON HAMSTER ILLNESSES
AVERAGE ADULT WEIGHT
SYRIAN/TEDDY: 120 – 250g
DWARFS: 40 – 60g
These are just average weights and, like us, some have a larger/smaller build than others and may weigh a little more or a little less than these averages, e.g. a large Syrian could be healthy at 300g, while a runt could be healthy at 100g.
Your ham should stay the same weight from about 6 months until about 2 years old.
A diamond scale or small diet scale should be useful, otherwise your vet will be able to weigh him/her. However, if you don’t have a scale at all (and you obviously don’t want to put the little one through a journey to the vet just for a weigh-in), and you are sure your ham is a healthy weight, try to get a decent picture of your hamster at 6-8 months in your own hand to refer back to.
SCRATCHES AND ABRASIONS
No matter how careful you are, these can still occur from time-to-time. Sometimes the cause is inexplicable, other times it could be due to over-grooming, relentless scratching because of itchiness (mites infestation, sweating caused by a plastic bedroom, allergy, etc.), sharp edges on a cage accessory, being poked by a stalk (hay), etc. Try to find the cause to prevent recurrence.
DO NOT USE ANY OINTMENTS UNLESS ADVISED BY YOUR EXOTICS VET.
Your hamster could become ill if it is ingested during grooming, or you could make a simple wound worse!
If there is a deep gash with flesh exposed and/or profuse bleeding, get to a vet IMMEDIATELY!
For simple skin scratches or abrasions, and where any bleeding has stopped, it is important that these wounds do not become infected. Some people are keen on diluted low-volume peroxide, but you want to be careful not to cause stinging treatment that may result in your hamster becoming stressed, or developing a fear of being handled by you.
Instead, you can try these milder remedies that appear to be really effective and gentle:
THYME TEA can be used as an antiseptic to treat minor cuts and scrapes
½ cup fresh Thyme Herb sprigs (available from most grocery stores)
1 Rooibos teabag
pinch to ½ tsp of Salt
Place the fresh thyme and rooibos teabag in a mug and cover with boiling water.
Remove the teabag after two minutes.
Let the rest sit for at least 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until the tea has cooled.
Strain and add the salt.
Pour into a clean bottle or jar and store in the fridge, removing a little for each treatment session.
Gently use the tea to clean the sore twice a day (cotton buds or cotton pads work well).
Discard the rest of the tea from that session.Toss all the tea away after a few days.
Note that thyme should not be used in the presence of pregnant hamsters.
COLLOIDAL SILVER is also said to have good healing properties but apparently not as good as rooibos.
Available from DisChem, Clicks, and health shops...for hamsters, get the Liquid.
Either use a cotton bud to apply the liquid to the abrasion or use fill up an empty nasal spray bottle and
spray the wound, being careful not to get the hamster too wet.
IF THERE'S NO SIGN OF IMPROVEMENT AFTER 2 OR 3 DAYS OF USING ONE OF THESE HOME REMEDIES,
OR THE WOUND BECOMES INFECTED OR DEVELOPS AN ABSCESS,
PLEASE TAKE YOUR HAMSTER TO YOUR EXOTICS VET ASAP.
EYE INFECTIONS / IRRITATIONS / INJURIES
When you spot that your hamster has an eye infection you will need to take immediate action.
Eye infection/irritation appears to be a relatively common occurrence from time-to-time, often caused by:
Allergy to pine shavings. We recommend that you stick to a safe bedding, like Carefresh, to avoid ongoing suffering.
A particle of sand or dust from the hamsters sand bath/pit or coco-peat can occasionally get lodged in the eye, causing irritation. Dusty products like facial tissues, 2-ply toilet paper, powdery/dusty substrates, etc.
Elderly hamsters are naturally susceptible to problems that cause the eye to weep and stick shut during sleep. S/he may need a little assistance with dissolving the crust.
In the following case, please see your exotics vet first, before attempting home treatment...may need antibiotics and/or special antibiotic eyedrops:
Sharp edges on a cage accessory, being poked by a stalk (hay) or sharp piece of wood in the shavings, etc. Try to find the cause to prevent recurrence or, if you use hay, try to make the "DIY Hay" instead.
Sometimes a hamster will have a torn eyelid from fighting with another hamster in a pet shop, or being kept together by an owner. Often this results in regular flare-ups of irritation throughout the hamster's life and you will need to treat every time you see re-occurrence.
Viral infection can eventually result in further illness, affecting lungs or the brain, and can lead to the death of the hamster. Since viral infections are contagious, the hamster will need to be quarantined from other pets and you will need to ensure that your hands are properly cleaned after handling or treating him until the ailment has fully cleared.
If there is an obvious gash, a LOT of oozing mucus, swelling/bulging, or bleeding!
A little bump on the eyelid is USUALLY a harmless little sty that will disappear on it's own in a week or two. It can be assisted with the milk & honey remedy to speed up recovery and prevent itching and/or irritation. However, if the surrounding area becomes swollen at any stage, or the bump starts to look really angry, PLEASE take your hamster to your exotics vet ASAP for proper veterinary treatment.
An eye that has difficulty in opening (or crusted over) is anything from mild irritation due to a particle of dust, to an allergy infection (sticky eye/conjunctivitis), to a more serious scratch. For irritation or sticky eye, use the milk & honey or saline tea remedy. For a scratch in the eye or on the eyelid, we suggest taking to your exotics vet ASAP.
It is handy to keep these moistened Clean Eye Round Pads as part of your first aid kit. Next time you're at your local vet, ask for a tub (no prescription required).
Cleans discharge and safely wipes away any weeping from excessive eyedrops.
Use one clean pad for each eye to prevent spread of any infection - for little hamster eyes, you can cut each pad in half.
FOR MINOR IRRITATIONS (or emergencies until the vet is open), you can try one of these
MILD HOME REMEDIES that appear to be really effective and gentle.
For all solutions, you could also use an empty, sterilized eyedropper bottle for direct application, or to squeeze a drop directly onto the
cotton bud/pad. This may also help to keep bacteria out of the solutions.
NO IMPROVEMENT AFTER 2-3 DAYS OF ONE OF THESE HOME REMEDIES,
PLEASE TAKE YOUR HAMSTER TO YOUR EXOTICS VET ASAP
SALINE ROOIBOS EYE DROPS
Works well for sticky eye. Saline helps to dissolve crustiness and also sterilise, and rooibos has excellent healing benefits.
1 Rooibos teabag
1 (250ml) cup Boiled Water or Distilled Water
1/2 teaspoon Salt
In a sterile glass jar, steep the teabag in the hot boiled/distilled water to make a weak tea. Dissolve the salt in the tea when the teabag has been removed.
Allow to cool, and store in the fridge. (Make a fresh batch every 2 or 3 days, if ongoing treatment is required.)
To treat the hamster, tip a little of the saline tea into a small cap/bowl, and wet a cotton bud or point of a folded cotton pad in the solution. Do not dip directly into the main container, as you may end up introducing bacteria and will then need to make a new batch for each session.
Gently wipe the eye. Repeat with a clean bud/pad if particularly crusty, to help soften and dissolve the crustiness without rubbing, which could scratch the eye and cause further irritation.
If both eyes are infected, use a new bud/pad for each). Throw away the used saline tea.
Apply this treatment 2 or 3 times a day.
MILK & HONEY EYEDROPS (Honey acts as a mild antiseptic/antibiotic.)
Works well for a sty and conjunctivitis.
Mix milk and honey (Manuka or local organic honey) in equal portions into a small shallow pan.
Bring to a warm simmer, stirring constantly, until the mixture is completely blended. Allow to cool down.
Use an eyedropper and place a drop or two into the affected eye/s.
Apply 2 or 3 times a day.
COLLOIDAL SILVER LIQUID is very gentle but apparently not as effective as the first two remedies.
Available from DisChem, Clicks, and health shops...for hamsters, get the Liquid.
No dilution is necessary and you simply treat the eyes; simply use a clean dropper or cotton bud.
IF YOUR HAMSTER BITES YOU
(for serious bites that actually draw blood...not little nips that don't break skin)
Many of us get bitten once or twice by our hamsters, and some typical reasons could be:
pushing your luck too soon with a new arrival (please remember to exercise patience and let a new hamster settle in before trying to handle it),
it gets nervous during the first stages of taming (for helpful guidance, rather see the Taming Your Hamster page first)
cage aggression (insecurity due to feeling trapped and vulnerable in a cage that is too small),
your young child isn't being supervised during play sessions and is holding it too tightly or playing too roughly/excitably with it, and the hamster is frightened or hurt (hamsters are not suitable pets for children under 8-10 years old),
it hasn't woken up properly, or is still sleeping, and got a fright when you touched or tried to pick it up (sometimes they also get a fright if they wake up and hear you messing about in the habitat but are unaware that it is you....please talk softly while you are doing this so he knows it's you).
it was unaware of your approach and mistook your hand for a predator,
you have been handling food and your hamster mistakes your finger as a treat (remember that they don't see very well, so do wash your hands!).
the little one is in pain somewhere ....If biting is out of character for your fully awake familiar hamster, please give it a thorough check-up to see if there are any sores or lumps/bumps and take to your exotics vet immediately if this is the case, or if this behaviour continues without any obvious signs of an ailment. (GIVING YOUR HAMSTER A HEALTH CHECK: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OmcWSnhYvRI)
If your hamster bites you:
Although you could indeed get a fright TRY NOT TO PANIC...you are not going to be savaged to death! It is better that you are always aware that you could get bitten so that you don't get too startled.
DO NOT SHAKE OR FLING THE HAMSTER to get it to release the grip on you, because you could cause it to get injured. Just lower it to the bedding in the cage ... they generally release you shortly and won't hold you captive forever.
If it doesn’t automatically release you, just gently and calmly prise it away.
DO NOT SHOUT at your hamster. This will only scare it and you're more likely to get bitten again.
Don't panic! Hamsters kept inside your home in a clean habby pose extremely low risks of you catching any diseases from them. There is no need to rush off for a tetanus jab or to the doctor! The bites may often be painful, but you shouldn’t worry too much.
The following precautions are recommended (if it's a really bad bite, particularly when it happens in a crease or right at the edge of your nail....you know, those spots that always take longer to heal):
Wash your hands and the wound.
Use a disinfectant on the wound, like hydrogen peroxide, surgical spirits, Savlon, or Dettol.
Soaking in warm Epsom Salt water can also be helpful and help the wound heal.
If it is still bleeding, use a plain plaster until flow has stopped but DO NOT put on a plaster with antibiotic ointment since some infections are resistant to these and will flourish in the dark, moist environment.
Apply another dab of Savlon or Dettol occasionally (or a soak in Epsom Salt water if it looks inflamed after a few hours, which helps to draw out potential infection and reduces inflammation).
The above should see your wound healed within a few days but, if not, the following are signs that the infection is spreading and you should see a doctor:
Is there swelling that won't go down within 2 or 3 days in spite of the standard treatment above?
Has the wound become warm to the touch?
Is there redness extending from the area of the original bite down the finger to your hand?
Do you have a fever?
The main cause of this incredibly painful, and often irreversible, condition is from bad wheels (as listed on the Wheels page). It starts with tissue becoming infected when the skin on the feet is abraded by an unsuitable surface or the foot/toe gets injured when getting caught in a bar, rung, mesh, or crossbar. This includes open-rung/mesh levels and ladders, not just wheels. If left too long without veterinary medication and correction of the cause, the infection will reach the delicate bones in the foot or leg and the hamster's leg will need to be amputated.
It is important to regularly check your hamster's feet, regardless of which wheel you have since some hams can still develop bumblefoot from prolonged running on a hard surface, and get him to an exotics vet as soon as you notice anything that looks like a sore under or around his feet. In this case, it would also be a good idea to remove the wheel until the infection has cleared up, and then consider lining your good wheel with something soft, like cork sheeting or a lightly textured place mat or corrugated cardboard. Never use anything too abrasive, like sandpaper or hard carpeting, on the wheel, since this will also result in bumblefoot.
If you are not going to bother with a correct wheel, rather do not provide one at all. You will have to dedicate yourself to providing some other method of regular and sufficient exercise!
COLDS AND RESPIRATORY INFECTIONS (PNEUMONIA)
Hamsters can catch respiratory infections and sniffles (cold) quite easily and delayed veterinary treatment results in Pneumonia, which is often fatal. Causes can be:
the cage is in a draughty zone,
the cage is in direct sun and the temperature drops too drastically at night,
not enough nesting material to keep warm in winter,
the hamster has gotten wet (please don't bath your hamster),
the bedding was wet for too long (tipped water bowl or leaking bottle),
fungal spores from bad bedding gone damp and moldy,
bad potty bath substrate that is too fine and dusty,
you handled the hamster while you were ill (yes, we can infect them).
There is no "home remedy" for this and you need to get the little one to an exotics vet ASAP
as they can die from such infections if not treated quickly. The vet will most likely prescribe antibiotics for a respiratory infection.
A small sprig of fresh bruised thyme in the habby or bedroom is said to assist in helping to somewhat relieve respiratory difficulty. Maybe try this until you get to the vet in the morning, and for the duration of the illness after the vet visit, but please don't rely on this as the sole treatment!
Don't forget to add some Protexin, or any other small-animal probiotic, to your medicine haul (this will help restore the immunity system) but please see the instructions further down on how to use this if the hamster is prescribed antibiotics.
After seeing the vet, add a few drops of Rooibos Tea to the drinking water for 2 or 3 days and provide a small piece of fresh parsley leaf as a tonic. Never use any of those awful tonics that are sold in pet shops!
If your hamster has had sniffles and has dried/wet mucus on it's nose/face, use a cotton pad dampened in a little tepid water to gently clean the area twice a day (don't drench the cotton pad....you don't want to wet or drown the poor thing).
Correct what ever situation may have caused the illness.
MITES, LICE & FLEAS
Invisible mites occur naturally on most hamsters and, unless noticeably affecting the hamster, generally do not cause harm. However, when there are noticeable symptoms this is then an infestation.
Causes: Infestation can be a result of:
Poorly set up habitats and bad hygiene standards.
Hatching nits that may be lurking in commercial bedding/nesting/additional substrates, and sometimes food mixes & treats, and you haven't frozen or baked them before use.
If you have/had other pets in your home, including dogs and cats, there is a good possibility that you may have MITES and/or or FLEAS in the house that will travel to your hamster's habby.
Hamsters with low-immunity are most susceptible to recurring infestation of mites.
If the human handler has LICE, these can also be transmitted during cuddle times.
Why do we not want infestation?
Your hamster is always susceptible to getting infested with mites, fleas, and even ticks, from the numerous sources. These pests derive their nutrition from the host after they burrow and lodge themselves firmly under the skin and hang on to hair root follicles, and even embed themselves inside the ears. There they will thrive and breed extensively while they draw on the host’s blood, feed on dead skin cells, and also on oils secreted by sebaceous glands on their epidermises.
Unfortunately, many types of mites cannot be seen with the naked eye but, if you are using the correct bedding and have taken precautions (e.g. freezing substrates and food before use), the following is often a clue that your hamster has mites:
your hamster is itching excessively (more than usual or so much so that you can see s/he is visibly uncomfortable and distressed)
or if there are patches of fur disappearing
Despite the microscopic size of some, you may be able to spot them if you sift through the hair follicles or if you darken the room completely and search for mites using a powerful torchlight. Other mites look like small round red or black dots. Fleas, lice, and other types of visible mites are obviously more easy to spot.
Get PUPPY/KITTEN REVOLUTION from any vet shop and some pet shops.
Place a drop on the back in the middle between the shoulder blades.
If you aren't confident about accurately getting one drop from the pipette, get an insulin syringe from any pharmacy, and draw out 0.010 to 0.016 ml depending if Dwarf or Syrian.
Repeat this 2 or 3 times, once a week (i.e. 1 drop today, another 1 drop in 7 days, and another in 7 days, etc.).
The repeat doses are important to break the reproductive cycle of the pests and hatching nits.
Keep the rest of the Revolution tube in the fridge for the next round/s.
During treatment, it is also a good idea to perhaps put the hamster on a course of Protexin Soluble in order to keep the immunity up, and balance any tummy issues too, followed by Anima-Strath Granules or CBD Oil to help the skin and fur recover.
THESE DOSAGES ARE FOR ADULT HAMSTERS ONLY.
PLEASE CONSULT YOUR EXOTICS VET BEFORE TREATING BABIES AND PREGNANT/SUSPECTED PREGNANT FEMALES.
When you start treatment, thoroughly clean the habitat to get rid of most of the bugs right now.
Vetafarm Avian Insect Liquidator is recommended for spraying the habitat and items to kill the bugs and nits. Let it stand for a while and then, unlike for birds, wipe down the habitat to get rid of any residue and scrub it off the items. Do not spray it onto your hamster!
Replace all substrates (bedding, nesting, sand, coco-peat, etc.).
Freeze whatever you can for 24-48 hours. Make sure the new substrates are not infested (it is important to try and determine the original source of any infestation).
Thereafter, clean* the bedroom/nest and sand potty/bath every day for a week with new nesting material to make your hamster more comfortable by getting rid of the current live mites.
(*) EARLY DETECTION:
You do not need to replace everything, but simply clean the habitat and then tend to the nest and sand every day.
(Freezing re-usable substrates also helps)
PRECAUTION & PREVENTION
We recommend a precautionary dose of mite treatment for a new hamster that you have rescued or gotten from a pet shop where conditions were dirty or overcrowded. However, we still suggest that, in such circumstances, the hamster is first taken for a checkup at your nearest exotics vet, particularly babies and due to the common possibility that the hamster may be pregnant (don't always trust that the person has correctly determined the gender!)
GOOD NATURAL REMEDY (found by a member of HSA who reports that it worked extremely well). Worth a try!
Put a few roughly crushed cloves of garlic in half a cup of olive oil.
Heat the oil until it is warm, but not until it starts to cook the garlic (you simply want to infuse the oil with garlic).
Strain the bits and use the oil mixture, and seal in a jar with a tight-fitting lid
Place a few little drops around the edges of the habitat and large items every day or two, preferably where you can reach to wipe clean. A drop can also be placed on the hamster, but the mixture is very greasy. * Note that the hamster will not appreciate the smell *
Also a good idea to smear a little on the outside of the habitat by the joins.
After a few days, clean the habitat and everything in it (apparently there will be a lot of dead mites). Put another few smears of the oil at the outside of the clean habitat by the joins after cleaning off the old oil.
ADDITIONAL NOTE: Chickens are notorious for getting mites and farmers note that mites do not like the taste of garlic and yeast in the blood of the animal. It therefore makes sense that the above garlic oil would work well but, since we cannot feed garlic to hamsters, we can probably improve the remedy by getting yeast into the hamster via a course of Anima-Strath Granules or De-Bittered Brewers Yeast.
Under many circumstances, mites/fleas can perfectly shelter themselves in the hamster’s bedding and toys, and even in the rods of a wire cage and the joins of a habitat. Therefore, it is very important that you freeze all substrates and food for 24-48 hours before using. Freezing will generally kill any ganonies that may be lurking or ready to hatch in ideal conditions. When buying a new cage, even brand new out of the box, a good scrub is necessary and then place it in direct sunlight for the day.
Ringworm symptoms can initially present very similar to mite infestation and is therefore easy to misdiagnose, even though it's one of the easiest things to detect. In cases where your vet diagnoses and treats for mites, and there is no improvement after 3 cycles of mite treatment, please ask him/her to shine a UV Light on your hamster! Ringworm glows under a UV Light.
Left unattended, the hamster will not get better and eventually look like this hamster in the pic on the left and become increasingly ill. The vet may give an injection of Ivermectin and prescribe a lotion and/or bath/wipes.
IF YOUR HAMSTER DOES NOT RESPOND TO MITE TREATMENT AND A UV LIGHT DOES NOT REVEAL ANY RINGWORM, a skin scraping will need to be taken and tested.
STRESS & ANXIETY can result in a multitude of problems relating to lowered immunity, Wet Tail, and fur loss along with skin problems. Try to find the cause of this stress and eliminate it as as soon as possible. Typical causes of stress:
Noisy disruptive zone where the hamster habby is kept (screaming/loud children, dogs barking, loud music, habby constantly being bumped, etc.). Move the habby to a more peaceful area of your home away from these disturbances!
Being too roughly handled causing fear and/or pain (particularly in the case of overly zealous children, or teenagers who think it funny to do stupid things with a hamster). Remove the hamster from such humans or strictly supervise playtimes at all times.
Traumatic events such as change of ownership, particularly where the hamster was previously neglected or ill-treated, or from an unknowledgeable pet shop. Many rescued hamsters come from such backgrounds too. Exercise patience, love, and understanding, and allow the hamster a few days to settle into your peaceful home and to build up trust with you. Follow the tips on the Taming page if necessary.
Under-sized cages are a major cause of stress and anxiety. The situation will not improve until you move the hamster to an appropriately sized habitat! Please refer to the Cages & Housing page!
Loud thunderstorms and fireworks. Follow the tips on the Weather Comfort page.
Hamster-safe CBD OIL / TINCTURE is highly effective in relieving stress and anxiety.
See the detailed topic on the Supplements page.
Other than the above solutions, your hamster may also benefit from the use of a Bonding Scarf/Snood/Bag: -
HAMSTER BONDING BAGS are available in different patterns from Jadi's Pet Haven:
083 894 4476 firstname.lastname@example.org
A BONDING SCARF/SNOOD/POUCH can be very useful to comfort your anxious hamster, or when it is ailing or cold.
Also useful in the taming process to allow your hamster to become accustomed to being close to you without too much initial handling
Unfortunately, there is no longer a known maker of the SCARF/SNOOD, but you could attempt to make similar yourself out of a snood or hood from an old sweater. Get creative!
Some pet shops are stocking this herbal mixture for cats and dogs as a calming remedy.
It contains HIGH quantities of Valerian and is therefore not deemed safe for smaller animals.
~ Per the supplier's response to queries:
"Truthfully, we have not conducted any test for our product on small pets. It is safe for cats and dogs as long their vets approve.
We have not heard of any clients asking about Happy Cat for Hamsters, Guinea Pigs or Chinchillas. For safety purposes, I would not recommend it's use for small animals."
MOSQUITO BITES & NATURAL REPELLENT
These little pests are not fussy about what animal they bite and draw blood from, and your hamster is just as susceptible as you are. The females are the small mozzies that sing, suck and cause the mayhem. Although your hamster is unlikely to contract any diseases (unless you're in an area with the disease carrying types), the bite will make an itchy bump.
Unfortunately, we cannot spray poisons, burn repellent candles, nor use sonic or mat machines in the same room as the hamster, because that will cause illness, possibly death. However, there are certain natural herbs that you can grow around your home that are reported to repel mosquitoes (and possibly other bugs too), or you can bruise the fresh leaves, or dry them to place somewhere near your hamster cage, or make "tea sprays" to use around the room. Not so advisable to use any pungent herbs inside your cage or too many near the lower bars, but maybe laying one or two on top of the cage may help to repel the pests from entering. Some of the herbs mentioned on the safe foods list could be dried and hung in a corner of the habby and will be safe enough if the hamster nibbles.
Here are some herbs that you could use as repellents to grow and use: http://holtkamphvac.com/11-plants-herbs-that-naturally-repel-mosquitoes/
WHAT IF YOUR HAMSTER GETS BITTEN?
Do not use ointments. Your hamster will lick and ingest this, and who knows what pharmaceuticals are in those that may cause him/her to become ill.
Apply a drop of COLLOIDAL SILVER LIQUID or LIQUID GEL and gently massage onto the spot, or
Make an ITCH-SOOTHING TEA:
1 x Tablespoon dried Basil leaves (contains a substance called eugenol, which numbs the nerve endings that cause itching)
1 x Tablespoon dried Thyme (like basil, thyme also has anti-inflammatory properties, and is also a numbing agent)
500ml Boiling Water or weak Rooibos Tea
Place herbs in a jug or teapot and top with boiling water. Close the lid loosely.
Allow it to steep and cool.
Strain and place in a jar or bottle and allow to get cold in the fridge.
Use a cotton bud to apply to the itchy bite 3 times a day, or as necessary (the cold will also bring some relief, but if your little one seems bothered by it, rather let a little of the tea reach room temperature before applying).
* Fresh bruised leaves can be used instead, if you have these plants.
* Note that thyme and certain herbs should not be used in the presence of pregnant hamsters.
These stupid little pests often find their way into your hamster's habitat and can be extremely annoying for your hamster (and you). They will be attracted by anything from your hamster's water, to left over food, and even to the poops!
Unfortunately, we cannot use poison or essential oil sprays, nor use sonic machines in the same room as the hamster, because that will cause illness and stress, possibly death.
SOME GOOD SAFE HOME REMEDIES TO USE OUTSIDE THE HABITAT:
Diatomaceous Earth (DE) Ant Barriers
Food grade DE is one of the most effective natural ant killers in existence. As soon as ants make contact with it, it sticks to them and dries them out, eventually making them die of dehydration. Plus, it’s non-toxic for you, your kids and your pets as well as wildlife so it makes a fantastic, natural ant killer if you’re looking to avoid dangerous toxins in your home.
The best way to use DE to get rid of ants, is to sprinkle it around the entire perimeter of your house, concentrating on areas that are popular ant entry points. This makes an effective barrier so that every new ant that finds its way into your home will be dead in a few days.
You could also place a barrier of DE around the base of your hamster habby, on the outside.
Cornmeal Colony Killer Homemade Ant Trap
It’s a common myth that cornmeal kills ants – it doesn’t. But what it does do is act as an attractive bait. You see, worker ants that go foraging for food usually eat liquids but not solids so when they come across yummy food like cornmeal, they’ll carry it back to their nest. So mixing some cornmeal with boric acid is an effective way to wipe out entire colonies of ants.
(Cornmeal = fine Polenta or Maize Meal)
Use a small, low plastic plate or plastic lid.
Combine a 70/30 ratio of cornmeal and borax.
Leave it out in areas where you’ve seen ants and wait for it to do its job.
Peanut Butter Straws/Blobs Homemade Ant Traps
Some ants are more drawn to protein and grease than they are to sugary substances. To attract these ants, and to cover all your bases, you may want to use this in conjunction with one or two of the other trap types, whip up some peanut butter treat.
Mix 1 spoonful of peanut butter with 1 teaspoon of boric acid/borax.
Get a plastic straw and push the mixture into the straw until it’s full.
Cut the straw into parts and scatter them in places where ants roam (or place blobs of the PB mix onto little lids).
Borax and Sugar Cotton Balls Homemade Ant Trap
If you’re not crazy about the idea of having plastic containers full of homemade ant poison lying around the house, you can make a similarly effective ant trap using cotton balls.
Boil 1 cup of water, remove from heat.
Add 1 cup of sugar + 2 tablespoons of borax into the hot water.
Stir it until it’s completely dissolved
Soak cotton balls in this mixture.
The cotton balls are going to be wet and sticky so place them on a small piece of tin foil or an old lid.
Strategically place these balls in all the places of your house where ants roam (and outside your hamster habitat).
Remember to replace these traps often, whenever you see ants lurking!
½ teaspoon of Borax powder and/or
½ teaspoon of Boric/Boracic Acid powder
1½ tablespoons of sugar
5-10 drops of room temperature water
Mix the ingredients until the consistency is like a paste.
Add drops of water as required.
Spread the paste into small shallow lids.
Leave where the ants/cockroaches roam.
Please note that Borax and Boracic/Boric Acid is toxic for children and pets, so do keep any of those traps out of reach.
THIS IS MOST LIKELY THE SAFEST & MOST SURE METHOD
Place little "feet' or "stilts" under each corner of your habitat and stand those feet in bowls of water. The ants will drown before they can infest your hamster's habitat.
Attach little blocks of wood, or pieces of PVC piping, and secure with a glue gun or strong double sided tape to the bottom of the habitat to ensure that it doesn't slip off the feet.
Make sure that the bottom of the habitat does not touch the top of the bowls.
This is something that many hamster owners worry about, often needlessly but still a very important part of their health to be aware of and check on regularly, since those little gnashers are constantly growing and can have or cause issues.
Colour: HEALTHY TEETH ARE YELLOWY-BROWN (lighter in younger hamsters and darker when they're older).
White teeth is usually a sign that certain vitamins and minerals are lacking from the diet, and you need to check that you are providing a properly balanced one of good quality dry mix as well as a variety of fresh foods (but DO NOT even consider putting in one of those mineral blocks or commercial tonics) - see Bad Supplements topic.
A tooth that breaks and regrows will often be white or lighter than the others, but should darken as it gets older.
Dark brown or black teeth could be a sign of decay and the matter should be seen to by an exotics vet.
Length: The bottom teeth are usually about 3 or 4 times longer than the top teeth, as shown in the picture alongside. This is the healthy teeth standard.
"HOW LONG IS TOO LONG? Sometimes it is difficult for a person to determine if their hamster’s teeth are becoming too long or not. One way to assess this is to offer your hamster a treat, say for instance a monkey nut still in the shell; the hamster should be able to take it from you without any difficulty by grasping the nut in the upper and lower teeth very easily. Difficulty in opening the jaws, or mouth, wide enough to grasp the nut, or any attempt to tuck it in behind the elongated teeth would suggest that the teeth are becoming too long." ~ HammysWorld. If you don't have a monkey nut (peanut) in a shell, give a similar sized treat, like a hamster biscuit or piece of rice cake.
Broken or misaligned teeth. Causes of broken or misaligned teeth:
Bar chewing (see below).
Birth defect: - genetics - weak teeth due to lack of good nutrition during the mother's gestation & lactation and bad early diet as a baby/young hamster - or deformed jaw.
A fall onto a hard surface and landing in an awkward landing position.
Hydrocephalis - excess fluid on the brain (such handicapped hamsters will need specific lifelong care).
Misaligned teeth can prevent them not being able to meet properly in the right positions to get naturally worn down, resulting in difficulty to eat hard foods and gnaws properly.
A broken tooth will result in the opposite tooth growing too long into the "open space" and the hamster will eventually not be able to grasp and eat it's food properly.
In such cases, regular vet visits will be required to trim the teeth properly or they can eventually grow through lips and pouches, and even into the brain if left for too long without this intervention. Sometimes, it may be necessary for all teeth to be extracted and a special diet of soft foods will be required thereafter.
Left untreated the hamster will starve to death, or die as a result of brain damage or infection.
Some very experienced owners know how to trim the teeth themselves but, unless you have been trained by your vet to do this properly, PLEASE do not attempt it yourself because you could cause further damage.
Overgrown teeth and/or prevention: In the absence of any of the above, and your hamster's teeth still become overgrown, it could be a due to lack of suitable hard/tough GNAW ITEMS/TREATS -
Whimzees (dog chews) are the best things that happened for hamsters! Most love them, but for the odd hamster who doesn't take to them, try to find other items.
Hard seed bells, blocks, and gnaws are usually also a great hit (consider our easy recipe Seed Gnaw recipe).
Little apple, pear or mulberry branches and other wooden items in the cage may also peak some interest, or you could coat them in a light film of peanut butter, soak in fruit juice, etc. to make a possibly bland item more enticing.
Thick strong cardboard and eggboxes may also be gnawed, but you may need to find the spot where your hamster likes to chew these, e.g. covering the accessible cage bars, on the base of the bedroom, against corners of a solid habitat, etc.
Treats hidden inside cardboard toys or shreddable mats could also work well (see DIY page).
BAR CHEWING: Aside from birth/genetic defects, this is one of the main causes of broken or misaligned teeth. Many hamsters will chew the bars of a wire cage for a number of reasons: attention seeking, stress, frustration due to insufficient cage space, boredom due to lack of entertainment within the cage, and lack of suitable and/or enticing gnaw toys/treats.
Bar chewing is really bad because of the harsh gnawing material and unnatural angle of the body to achieve this chewing. The teeth can wear out so badly because of the hard bars that the hamster is left with just gums that start bleeding, which can become infected and also too painful to eat food.
Furthermore, the snout of the hamster can get severely damaged by the bar above the one that is being chewed! This can lead to the flesh being rubbed raw and getting infected or, in really bad cases, it will also affect the hamster's ability to smell and breathe.
PLEASE MAKE EVERY EFFORT TO STOP YOUR HAMSTER FROM CHEWING CAGE BARS!
It can often be difficult to stop this activity once the hamster has gotten into the habit, but there are measures you can take to deter it: -
If your cage is the correct size, you may need to consider an even bigger cage or changing to a non-wire option (glass tank, bin cage, custom trunk style habby, etc.)
If you have enough cage space and suitable gnaws, and the hamster is clearly addicted to his bars, short of changing to a different style of habby you will need to cover the inside of the accessible bar areas with something solid: perspex sheets, thick cardboard, solid place mats or chopping mats, etc. to encourage him to choose better chewing items and to get him out of the habit of going to the bars!
You could also attach a "wall" of pear/apple/mulberry branches, gnaw sticks or straight Whimzees to the accessible bar areas.
Some people recommend wiping or spraying the bars with lemon juice or vinegar to deter bar chewing. However, this is not recommended at all, as some hamsters will ignore the unpleasant flavour and become used to it, which then causes an additional problem due to the acidity.
Good video to watch about bar chewing: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s0g7L5BS0K8
How to get your hamster to chew safe gnaws: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=agDCTo4ZESE&t=208s
The pouch cavities go all the way down to your hamster's hips and are like big shopping bags that can hold a surprisingly large amount of things to be transported to various sections of the habitat. Food gets taken to hoarding spots or the bedroom, nesting material gets taken to the nest/bedroom, gnawing objects get taken to the chosen area, etc. The inside of these pouches are quite rough and sometimes items and materials can get trapped or they become impacted, where the hamster may be unable to shift them. Common causes of pouch problems:
Sticky foods are stuck and left behind (peanut butter, sticky dried fruits, etc.).
Fluff or threads from fabric and fluffy nesting gets caught on the rough surface/folds resulting in foods and small seeds getting trapped in the fluff or threads.
Sometimes, the hamster can also over-stuff his pouches and there is difficulty to expel all of the items. Or a larger object shifts into an awkward position, preventing it (and anything else behind it) to be emptied out and the pouch is then impacted.
Sharp foods/objects scratching or cutting the inside of the pouch, particular if the hamster is handled without care while it's pouches are full, or if it tries to squeeze through a gap that is too tight to accommodate the extra width.
Often the irritation causes so much stress that the hamster ends up ripping out his pouch trying to expel the debris. Your hamster will need to go to your exotics vet IMMEDIATELY for the pouch to be cleared and stitched back in place.
If a mass remains inside, an infection will develop, eventually causing additional ear and eye infections. If the hamster is not treated by a vet immediately, the pouch will start becoming gangrenous resulting in part of it having to be cut away. Left untreated, infection/s will end up poisoning the hamster to an unpleasant death. A pouch left protruding from the mouth will make it impossible for the hamster to eat or drink and he will die of starvation and dehydration, or if left unattended for long enough, will also become infected.
A scratched/cut pouch may not initially be noticeable. Sometimes blood may be seen in the mouth or among the emptied food.
Avoid fluffy nesting and all fabrics in the habitat!
Avoid large dollops of sticky substances like nut butter and jam (although butters can melt, they can still leave an oily residue that will become rancid).
Opt for fresh fruit instead of dried fruit. If you fancy dried fruit (including the bits that are in the dry food mix), rather soak these in hot water first to reconstitute them to a slimier more normal texture.
Try not to handle your hamster while it's pouches are full. If you have to, be very careful and avoid squeezing or gripping him around the pouch area (rather scoop him onto your hand and gently cup him with your other hand and let him climb off where you want to put him down.
Make sure all tubes and entrances to bedroom houses, hideaways, and forage boxes are wide enough for your hamster to get through easily with full pouches.
If your hamster is a manic pouch-stuffer, keep a close eye on him. Try not to constantly be moving his favourite things to different places, and place his 1-ply toilet paper nesting directly outside of his bedroom/nest entrance. Replace some of his hoarded food with fresh, whenever you clean out those spots. Your "delivery service" will help him not to have to madly gather too much in one go.
Obvious signs of problems:
Weeping, swollen eye/s and/or angry area under the ear, and/or accompanied by a swollen pouch.
The pouch stays full for more than a day, or the cheek looks swollen.
Foul odour emanating from the face area or mouth.
Obviously if the pouch is protruding out of the mouth.
Blood in the mouth or on the expelled food. A
Any such signs need to be attended to by an EXOTICS VET ASAP!...early treatment could mean a simple flushing instead of an operation or major medication. THERE ARE NO HOME REMEDIES.
If the cheek pouch has prolapsed, please make ensure that it does not dry out until you get to your vet.
Good video to watch about the pouches: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OWzuNr0ulUY
PROTEXIN SOLUBLE (probiotic) is excellent to promote the immune system of hamsters recovering from serious illnesses, operations, parasite treatment, and high stress situations & malnutrition (particularly rescued hamsters), and also during and after pregnancy & nursing, and antibiotic treatment.
ANIMA STRATH GRANULES (highly recommended)
These granules are unique, because they help prevent potential disease and deficiencies, help strengthen your pet’s immune system, encourage healthy skin and hair growth, reduces recovery time, combats anxiety, supports normal development of the foetus, assist with concentration, and SO MUCH MORE.
CBD OIL / TINCTURE (for hamsters) (highly recommended)
Just like nearly all animals, hamsters have an Endocannabinoid System. That means by using CBD oil with hamsters, we can allow them to reap the same benefits as humans and our larger pets! People have used this for themselves, cats, dogs, and horses with good results, and the same can be done for our hamster companions.
ANTIBIOTICS - Only a vet can prescribe antibiotics.
If there isn't an exotics vet in your location, inquire beforehand if any of the regular vets perhaps know something about critters, or if they have contact with an exotics vet that they could get feedback from. This is very important to ensure that your hamster gets proper treatment.
When it comes to antibiotics, this is usually in liquid form. Your vet may also give a booster antibiotic injection to kick-start the meds. It is important to be aware that some hamsters may have a reaction at the jab spot, which can be difficult to heal, and we therefore recommend that you arm yourself with one of the remedies mentioned above in the Scratches & Abrasions topic, and start treating immediately if you notice any inflammation.
Liquid antibiotics will require you to administer them to your hamster yourself. Some hamsters will take this placidly, while others may be somewhat more wriggly and try to squirm away. Some of these meds (depending on the specific condition being treated) will be required to be given every 12 hours. This usually means that you will have to wake your hamster for the morning dose, which they usually don't like, and can lead to them changing the location of their nest often in the hopes that you don't find them.
It is also very important to give your hammy probiotics during the course of antibiotics, but not within 2 hours before/after the meds (see Protexin topic). Also make sure your hamster has plenty food and water available.
Here's a good video demonstration of Carlos being given a dosage of 0.3ml liquid (a 1ml syringe or smaller is always useful):
FUR LOSS, SKIN PROBLEMS & ALLERGIES can occur from time to time in many hamsters lives, causing concern for the owner.
Although not always a huge emergency and can be easily treated, we still advise an initial checkup at an exotics vet instead of assuming or hoping it'll go away. If there is a medical issue behind bald spots or allergies, an early diagnosis and treatment will increase the odds of a good outcome.
FUR & SKIN PROBLEMS
Less serious causes:
MOLTING. Yes, hamsters molt during change of seasons, just like your cat and dog do. More obvious in some hamsters than in others.
Generally this will appear as missing tufts or thin patches across most parts of the body.
Most commonly occurs at the start of summer, but also during prolonged extreme heat conditions. However, molting can also occur due to sudden extreme temperature changes.
Make sure the room where your hamster stays at a more-or-less consistent temperature and never place the habitat in direct sunlight or drafts. If, due to our weather, you cannot maintain coolness or warmth in the room, see the Weather Comfort page for tips to help your hamster remain comfortable.
OLD AGE. Any time from 18 months onward, your hamster is considered to be senior. From about 2 years old is when fur loss can start being visible (some will start showing earlier than others, while some hamsters will never have fur loss, even towards the end).
This usually starts at the tummy and bum and works up to the hind quarters (back legs, hips, and bum) and can often then become patchy over the rest of the body. This is natural due to loss of hormones and youthful condition.
The underlying skin may also become dry, scaly, and even hard due to inability to retain moisture. In worse cases, the area can become cracked, or scratched open by the hamster due to the itchiness, which results in bacteria entering the raw skin and causing a condition called dermatitis that will need to be treated by an exotics vet (steroid injection), including antibiotics if there is infection.
.Do not attempt to put ointments or creams on your hamster, unless instructed by an exotics vet, since the hamster could ingest these products during attempts at grooming and become ill. A humidifier in the room could assist in preventing severe moisture loss.
There isn't much that can be done, but you could increase foods and treats that could possibly assist in slowing down the process: flax/linseeds, hemp seeds. coconut flakes, oat flakes, wheatgerm, brown rice, and banana (only as a treat for dwarfs). The hemp and flax/linseeds can be ground up and mixed into pureed food to ensure better absorption in the digestive system. More regular fresh veggies and fruit can also help in maintaining moisture to lessen the dryness.
FRICTION. Regular rubbing against the sides of the cage and accessories within the cage, tubes that are too small, obsessive burrowing in hard bedding substrates, wheels that are too narrow, tight entrances to bedrooms and hideys, bedroom too small, etc. can also cause fur loss due to the constant friction in those spots.
Ensure that Syrians have appropriate sized tubes/pipes (the regular plastic hamster tubes are generally too tight for these larger hamsters). Rather use wider cardboard tubes, like Pringles tubes with the end cut off and the inner foil lining peeled out, or look at the Tubes section on the DIY page for other ideas to provide more suitably sized tubes.
Get a wider, more open wheel that your hamsters sides won't be able to rub against (most noticeably on one or both hips). If you feel that your closed Orbital-style wheel is the cause of this on your very large Syrian, perhaps look at getting the wider, open MPet Wheel. See the Wheels page.
Use a softer bedding, like Carefresh or Kaytee, if you're currently using a rough type like Hemp or safe wood shavings.
Make the openings wider on favoured hideys.
If you have a Syrian, do not use one of those commercial plastic houses as the bedroom/nest. Besides the entrance being way too small and a squeeze to get in and out of, there is little space for movement within and fur can become worn when your hamster cannot easily change positions and will tend to stay in one position only. Furthermore, there won't be sufficient space for him to place enough nesting substrate to shield his sides from the hard sides and base. Rather provide a suitably sized cardboard box with an entrance hole cut on one side, and some ventilation holes cut into the top, Square-ish cereal boxes will do, like Oats and Weetbix boxes, Tissue boxes, etc. (you can cut longer boxes shorter if you need to). Cardboard boxes are actually healthier than plastic houses and igloos anyway! See the Bedrooms section on the DIY page for some ideas.
Do ensure that there is a LOT of stripped up 1-ply toilet paper for your hamster to make the bedroom/nest soft and comfortable. This will reduce friction against the bedding substrate (if that's all he has to nest in) or against harder surfaces and sides of a bedroom. REMINDER: NEVER USE FLUFFY OR WOOLLY NESTING MATERIALS as these are dangerous.
TYPE OF SAND or SUBSTRATE. Some hamsters can even be sensitive to the safest of kid's play sands, and it may be worth your while to try another type of sand, like plain reptile sand or import grade chinchilla sand (see Sand page). Others could be sensitive to one of the recommended safe bedding substrates too, and changing to another safe brand could solve the problem (see Bedding Substrates page).
More serious causes:
VITAMIN & NUTRITION DEFICIENCY. Incorrect diet often causes fur loss, among other medical issues, due to lack of proteins and vitamin B.
Hamsters living on a high sunflower seed diet not only tend to suffer obesity and fatty liver disease, but this kind of a fatty diet results in the body being unable to absorb certain vital vitamins and minerals. We cannot stress enough that sunflower seeds and nuts are only occasional treats!
If your hamster is on a cheap, poor quality dry food mix, please change over to one of the high quality brands immediately. See the Dry Food section on the Food page.
Although they don't require a huge steak or entire chicken, a complete lack of proteins is a major cause for fur problems.Please, everyone, hamsters are omnivores - NOT vegans or vegetarians! Don't enforce your preferences/principals on your hamster. If you are yourself against handling proteins, you can provide your hamster with this by giving Purity baby foods but please check the label for unsafe ingredients, like tomato, lemon juice, spices, etc. (Best flavours: chicken & veg, beef & veg, and lamb & veg...but please check the ingredients, since Purity seems to change the recipes often).
Besides a variety of proteins, ensure that your hamster also receives a VARIETY of fresh vegetables and fruits at least 3 times a week (fruits only as occasional treats for dwarfs). See the Fresh Foods section on the Food page.
The addition of flax/linseed and hemp seeds can assist in the recovery of lost nutrients, and are generally good for skin and fur. These can be ground and mixed into pureed food up to ensure better absorption in the digestive system. Treats with the meals, like coconut flakes, oat flakes, wheatgerm, brown rice, and banana are also good to provide vitamin B and can improve and maintain condition.
Courses of rooibos tea in the drinking water is also good for general health (a few drops squeezed from a soaked teabag into the water bottle or bowl, or a drop or two mixed into fresh food, for a few days at a time).
Nutritional Yeast (de-bittered brewers yeast) works wonders in cases of non-blight* related fur loss, but please do not confuse this with bakers' or IDY yeast. Drop a pinch onto the food daily for two weeks. After two weeks reduce the amount to thrice weekly for two weeks, then twice weekly, if you still feel it's necessary at all. It loses effectiveness if too much is fed over too long a period and is also a lot for the ham to digest - potent and nutritious, but powerful. (*Blight ~ if your hamster suffers, or has ever suffered, from Pyometra (uterine infection), ovarian, or other uterine problems, or kidney issues, please check with your exotics vet first if yeast is advisable.) Good video to watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PLO_5AI62Ek
ANIMA STRATH GRANULES contain good yeast and a variety of other nutritional elements, and works incredibly well with fur loss (see product topic on the Supplements page).
Hamster-safe CBD OIL as a regular general supplement can also be beneficial for fur and skin (see product topic on the Supplements page).
PARASITES. Mites, fleas, or ringworm will also cause fur loss, most commonly on the upper body, along the back, and around the head/neck area.
(Refer to the topic above for details.)
These issues are easily treatable but need to be tended to as soon as possible to prevent major infestation that can become a serious threat to the hamster's health, as well as his comfort.
If he is generally in good health, mite treatment can be applied simply as a precaution and to eliminate one possibility of fur loss.
TUMOURS (T-CELL LYMPHOMA). Usually visible as an inflamed lump with hair loss over it and is most commonly found in older hamsters, but other skin and hair follicle tumors can also occur in hamsters of any age. Any lump or bump should be seen to by your exotics vet as soon as you notice it...early diagnosis may be treatable and could save your hamster's life. CDB Oil treatment may assist with pain and slowing down the progression of the disease (see topic on the Supplements page).
CUSHINGS DISEASE is an abnormality of the adrenal gland (situated next to the kidneys) where one or both glands will produce too much cortisol.
This disease is often misdiagnosed, even by experienced vets, due to similar symptoms of old age or diabetes/kidney problems.
Hair loss usually occurs on both sides of the body, primarily on the rear end of the body and hind legs, then to the rest of the body, and eventually all hair may fall out.
Other symptoms include, fatty lumps that may resemble small tumor-like growths, noticeable increase of water consumption and urinating, and often dramatic increase in appetite.
If you suspect that your hamster may have Cushings, you need to get him to your exotics vet ASAP (and mention that you suspect it), as early diagnosis and special care can often help your hamster cope with it and still live a reasonably long life.
CDB Oil treatment can assist in slowing down the progression of the disease and help your hamster feel more comfortable (see topic on the Supplements page).
CLEANLINESS OF HABITAT (not necessarily in your care, but some rescued and pet shop hamsters come from filthy conditions).
A hamster in a dirty environment may develop a skin condition, and just as worrisome, may abandon its normal cleaning habits, which leads to a slow deterioration of skin and coat. Treat the hamster for parasites (topic further up) as a precaution, and follow the vitamin & nutrition deficiency info above...a healthy diet will give the hamster a better and faster chance of recovery.
Ensure that there is a sand potty for the hamster to bathe itself and pee in, and that all urine spots are cleaned out EVERY day! This not only applies to pee spots in the sand, but also to spots elsewhere in the habitat, including soiled bedding and the underlying surface. Ammonia toxicity resulting from urine brings about a whole new problem!
If you are using a brittle bedding like pine/wood shavings or hay, you will need to clean more often due to these substrates breaking down easily, causing dust particles that will cause allergies and respiratory infections. Too frequent cage cleans lead to stress for the hamster, which then causes other medical issues. Please rather use one of the recommended safe substrates!
If none of the above suggestions show signs of improvement within 5-7 days, or the condition gets worse at any stage, or keeps reoccurring,
PLEASE GO TO YOUR NEAREST EXOTICS VET ASAP!
Allergy or other tests may be required to determine the cause.
Sneezing, watery discharge from the eyes resulting in sticky eyes, running wet nose, breathing problems, persistent and frequent itching, fur loss, or red & sore bald patches, swollen red feet, etc. may be indications of an allergic reaction.
However, some of these symptoms (sneezing, running nose, or breathing problems) can also be cold, flu, or respiratory infection, and should therefore be seen to by a vet immediately to rule out an allergy. The process of elimination for allergies could be too lengthy before you realise that it's not an allergy!
Household detergents and furniture polishes can result in allergies and skin problems. Never use bleach to clean cages and accessories as some residue may be left behind, in spite of your best efforts to rinse properly. Safest cleaning method: hot water with ordinary dishwashing liquid works well enough, rinsed/soaked with vinegar water (will remove soap residue and kill off any remaining bacteria), and rinsed again thoroughly in plain clean water.
Some washing powders and fabric softeners can also cause allergies, just as they do with some humans. While these may not be severe enough to cause skin/fur problems for your hamster, if there is any sneezing during cuddle times, you may want to consider the product you're using, or simply have one or two shirts that are not washed with these, which you can reserve for wearing during for hamster handling times.
Cigarette smoke is harmful to hamsters. Do not have your hamster in the same room where you smoke. Similarly, the smoke on your clothes can also cause allergic reactions and you can simply have one or two clean "unsmoked" shirts reserved for wearing during hamster handling times. And do wash your hands after smoking before you handle the hamster.
Aerosols (insect sprays, air fresheners, perfume, etc.) can also cause allergies that will not only affect the respiratory system, but can also cause skin and fur problems. Refrain from using such products in the hamster's room or when you are handling the hamster.
Even your perfume and fragranced hand or body soaps & washes, can affect your hamster's skin, nose and eyes, so make sure you are as plain as possible around your hamster.
Pine shavings are notorious for causing problems for hamsters. The phenols cause irritation and allergies that not only affect respiratory tracts and eyes, but also skin and fur, resulting in excessive scratching, fur loss, skin abrasions that will become infected, or swollen red feet. Kiln drying pine shavings apparently does not successfully remove all of the phenols, so that will not work either. Please change to one of the safer bedding substrates immediately - see the Bedding Substrates page.
If you are using a brittle bedding like pine/wood shavings or hay, you will need to clean more often due to these substrates breaking down easily, causing dust particles that will cause allergies and respiratory infections. Too frequent cage cleans lead to stress for the hamster, which then causes other medical issues. Please rather use one of the recommended safe substrates!
Scented beddings and sand are also known to cause problems that relate to allergies. Some of these scents are even imitations of foods and substances that are not safe for hamsters, e.g. citrus fruits, pine, baby powder, etc. NEVER USE SCENTED SUBSTRATES!
Similarly, please check the source of colourants in some bedding substrates. Carefresh and Kaytee do use safe colourants.
Although black ink on modern day newspapers is apparently non-toxic, it is also not recommended due to the strong smell, which may irritate the nasal passages and eyes. The residue rubbing off onto the hamster's fur and feet, may also not be great for your hamster to ingest during grooming. However if, for some reason, you decide to use newspaper, you definitely need to avoid pages with colour ink, and the advert pull-outs, since these inks are incredibly toxic for hamsters. We recommend that you purchase plain clean newsprint paper instead, or use plain clean printing paper.
Some hays, grasses (particularly regular lawn), and flowers that some of us like to use as bedding toppers can cause issues in allergy prone hamsters.
**** If you are already using a safe bedding substrate, try changing to another safe type. BUT, only try one bedding at a time to try and eliminate the one that could be causing the problem (if you use several at the same time, you will not know which one is the guilty substrate).
*** In worse case scenarios, where the hamster appears to be allergic to all commercial beddings it could be an allergy to dust and, unfortunately, not even the safest substrates are 100% dust-free. In such extreme cases, we suggest that you try the home-made bedding out of kitchen wipes as described on the Nesting page. Some vets will recommend cat litter pellets as bedding but, unfortunately, these are not very comfortable for the hamster's feet and do not allow burrowing, so perhaps try the kitchen wipes bedding first.
FOOD ALLERGIES:- Your hamster can also be allergic/intolerant or sensitive to certain food/s or ingredients. If all of the above possibilities have been eliminated and the issues continue, you may be dealing with a food allergy.
The most common ingredients that cause allergies are artificial food colourants (e.g. tartrazine), flavourants, and preservatives. READ FOOD LABELS carefully and avoid those that either have such ingredients or that don't provide info about the colouring and/or flavourant.
if you have eliminated the above food items and the problem persists, you will need to start a process of elimination (be patient):
Change to another brand of food.
Cut out ingredients from the diet that are typically synonymous with food allergies for about 2 weeks, e.g. wheat products like bread and biscuits/crackers (give plain rice cakes instead), all dairy like cheese and yoghurt, egg and products that contain egg, honey used as a binding ingredient in seed bells & treats, hays and grasses (even the pellets in some dry mixes contain this as fillers, so do be aware of that), flowers, etc.
If the elimination of all the typical allergy food items resolves the issue, slowly start introducing them back to the hamster, one type at a time for two weeks each, until you discover which one/s bring back the allergy. Then you need to avoid that ingredient/s for the rest of the hamster's life.
If none of the above suggestions show signs of improvement, or the condition gets worse at any stage,
PLEASE GO TO YOUR NEAREST EXOTICS VET ASAP!
Allergy tests and/or other tests will be required to determine the cause.
TUMORS / CANCER
There are many types of cancers / tumors that can befall our hamsters at any age, affecting skin, hair follicles, organs, etc. some treatable and some sadly fatal. Any lump or bump should be seen to by your exotics vet as soon as you notice it...early diagnosis may be treatable and could save your hamster's life.
CDB Oil treatment may assist with pain and slowing down the progression of the disease (see topic on the Supplements page).
It is difficult to cover all types, but we will add as they come to light in our SA community and we do more research on those.
T-CELL LYMPHOMA is probably the most common of cancers/tumors in hamsters. Usually visible as an inflamed lump with hair loss over it and is most commonly found in older hamsters.
HAMSTER POLYOMAVIRUS (HaPV or HaPyV), is a virus that attacks Syrian hamsters. Unknown, or very rare in Dwarf hamsters.
Incidence: Not very common, but we now have at least four known cases within less than a year (2021 & 2022) here in Cape Town, SA.
Symptoms: The infection results in multifocal lymphoma (skin cancer, visible as tumor-like lumps), mainly on the head and limbs but, since the disease often progresses, ulceration or secondary bacterial infection can occur (i.e. it spreads).
Although cases can start off quite mild, the infection generally leads to further tumors developing in the abdominal and chest areas to where there are so many lumps, or they become large enough, that they hinder the normal mobility and functioning of the hamster.
Transmission: HaPV is HIGHLY CONTAGIOUS.
In young animals, the virus is shed in the urine. In adult animals, the virus is shed in infected skin cells.
According to research this is a natural colony infection, but the main culprits of the spread in domestic hamsters is via breeding mills and, consequently, via pet shops that buy hamsters from such breeders.
The incubation period for the virus is up to 8 months, so symptoms of the disease may only appear long after adoption/purchase of the hamster.
Diagnosis: A tentative diagnosis may be made by an experienced exotics vet based on clinical signs or histopathology, and medication may be administered as a trial or in hope. Unfortunately, if medication proves ineffective and/or HaPV is confirmed, removing lumps will not result in a cure as new ones will occur. Sadly the fate of such a patient is terminal, but you can assess the progression and make the decision as to when it is time to do the kind thing and help the little one over the rainbow bridge without it suffering.
Cautions: Due to the disease being so highly transmittable, when HaPV is suspected it is recommended to completely isolate the hamster away from other hamsters and equipment (even the clothing that you wear during handling).
While you should ideally limit contact with the infected hamster, one doesn’t want it to feel neglected and unloved, and it is still deserving of attention. So do ensure that you properly disinfect your hands and arms, and any other area that the infected hamster has come into contact with.
Furthermore, before adopting/buying a new hamster, thorough disinfection of the infected habitat is required and, just to be safe, it should be not be used for a few months (possibly up to 8 months, per the incubation period of the disease).
SAFE & MEDICINAL HERBS
~ from the German hamster group "Hamster".
* = HSA comment/recommendation
Useful list of herbs and what they are good for! Some of these are native to Germany or Europe, but some are accessible in SA. It isn't specified for all herbs on how to give them to your hammies, or how much, *but we reckon a little daily pinch of a leaf will do until you can find out more, since too much of a good thing could cause runny tummies, etc. and we don't want that on top of whatever ailment is going on!
As always it is strictly advised to not just pick something from nature and put it directly into your hammies cage, because you might be bringing in bugs, or other things you don't want! *If picking fresh herbs, wash thoroughly and dry off the water droplets, put into the oven until most of the moisture from the plant has been eliminated, switch off the heat and allow to completely dry out. Store in an airtight container (preferably glass). If you would like to give fresh herbs, we suggest that you perhaps grow your own, per the advice on the Additional Enrichment page under the DIY Bedding Toppers topic.
*However, it is advisable to also do your own research...this list was published by the admins of the group, so we can only assume that they have done research, but its always best to be 100% certain about what you put in your baby´s habby!!
Stinging nettle leaves (DRIED ONLY, otherwise it will prick/sting the nose, mouth, or paw) - stimulates urine production, supports bladder infections.
Basil (in small quantities).
Blackberry leaves (pay attention to spines that will injure your hamster).
Dill - high crude fiber content, favorable for older animals.
Daisies - useful for intestinal inflammation, loss of appetite and blistering.
Giersch (* aka Ground Elder, Herb Gerard, Bishop's Weed, Goutweed, Gout Wort, Snow-in-the-mountain, English Masterwort, Wild Masterwort)
Hibiscus - antibacterial, diuretic, antispasmodic and helpful in constipation.
Raspberry leaves - (not the spines of the leaves, and NOT for pregnant females...will cause miscarriage/premature birth!)
Chamomile - for colds, gastrointestinal complaints and wound healing.
Cornflowers - anti-inflammatory and expectorant.
Dandelion (roots, flowers and leaves) (stems: only in small quantities, due to the low-toxic-acting milk juice, * but preferably avoid).
Parsley - stimulates the metabolism (NOT for pregnant females...stimulates premature birth!)
Marigold flowers - antibacterial, decongestant, anti-inflammatory and antispasmodic. Can also have a calming effect.
Rose petals - constipation and diarrhea.
Red clover - soothing, anti-inflammatory, and detoxifying (supports bronchitis recovery). Do not feed during flowering season.
Sunflower blossoms - wound healing.
Sunhat / Echinacea - strengthens the immune system. * Not to be confused with the tinctures for human supplements, which contain a lot of alcohol.
Ribwort plantain - expectorant and anti-inflammatory, beneficial for internal and external wound healing.
Thyme - small amounts, helping with respiratory ailments. (* NOT for pregnant females)
Mature female hamsters go on heat every 4 days for a few hours. Particularly in Syrian girls, you may notice that they have a particularly unpleasant pong during these episodes. If you stroke her back, she will "present" for you....the back will arch and she will stay really still in this position. Heat is more obvious in Syrian females than dwarfs.
During Heat episodes, you may also notice a small amount of milky-white discharge from the vagina. As long as it's not a lot of yellow stinky puss-like substance, this is nothing to worry about.
However, if it is still there the day after heat, and terribly stinky and yellow, please see your exotics vet ASAP, as this could indicate that your lady hamster has "Open" Pyometra (infection of the uterus).This happens when bacteria enters the cervix and is not sorted out by the good bacteria.
In the case of "Closed" Pyometra, the infection builds up internally with no escape via the vagina, as with Open Pyometra. Your female's abdomen will start to swell.
In both cases, the hamster will be in discomfort and become unwell. Unfortunately, the ONLY cure is to have the hamster spayed. Left untreated, your hamster will suffer to a painful death, so please ensure that you get early treatment. Your vet may prescribe a course of antibiotics to try and reduce the infection before the surgery. After antibiotics and surgery, please put your hamster on a course of Protexin (probiotics) to restore good cultures and immunity.
YOUR HAMSTER'S URINE can indicate some warning signs.
We advise using white/light colour nesting materials and sand, as it is easier for urine colour to show up. Often a slight colour change is nothing to panic about, but good to know and monitor.
A healthy hamster’s urine is milky white in colour and can appear slightly thick-ish.
Can often leave a patch in the potty/habitat that is difficult to scrub off.
YELLOW / BRIGHT YELLOW:
Quite common and usually nothing much to worry about, as long as your hamster is eating and drinking normally.
Often a case of eating certain types of foods.
CAUSES FOR MONITORING OR TO BE CONCERNED ABOUT -
UNUSUALLY “SOLID” WHITE OR DARKER MILKYNESS:
Your hamster may be suffering from Calciuria. This is mostly due to overconsumption of a calcium-rich diet, e.g. cheap low-quality food mix, calcium/mineral block in the habitat, too much dairy, etc.
Additional calcium is dangerous and can result in excruciatingly painful and/or irreversible kidney stones that can lead to a horrible death.
Correct the diet - Ensure that your hamster is on a diet of safe foods & quantities, high-quality dry food mix, and NEVER ever give those calcium/mineral/salt blocks that many pet shops sell!
Consult your nearest exotics vet if the issue persists.
This can often indicate traces of blood in your hamster’s urine, and the start of a UTI (Urinary Tract Infection).
However, the pinkish colour may also be due to the consumption of strawberries, cranberries, blueberry skin, plums etc.
Eliminate such foods for a day or two and see if the colour returns to normal. If no improvement, or it starts getting worse (darker red), then PLEASE visit your nearest exotics vet ASAP.
RED / DEEP BROWN:
This usually indicates blood in the urine - Urinary Tract Infection (UTI) – and needs antibiotics.
However, occasional reddish urine may be pigmentation in your hamster’s bladder due to eating staining foods such as dandelion, beetroot, red cabbage, or carrots. Eliminate such foods for a day and see if the colour starts returning to normal.
If there is a lot of deep red in the fresh urine (dark brown when dried), or a not-so-old potty-trained hamster appears to be incontinent, you NEED to see your nearest exotics vet ASAP in order to save your hamster’s life.
Brown urine can indicate a liver issue.
Keep check on the diet and water consumption or visit your nearest exotics vet if necessary.
(Deep brown dried urine indicates Red urine. See above).
Some causes of liver problems:
* toxic chemicals (cleaning agents, colour inks and glossy coatings on items such as cardboard & paper, etc.);
* high fat diet (fatty liver disease),
* incorrect calcium-phosphorus balance (e.g. too much sunflower seeds, mealworms, etc. inhibiting the absorption of sufficient natural calcium, etc.),
* insufficient proteins and carbs, particularly when younger.
This is usually a sign of dehydration.
Make sure that your hamster is provided with enough CLEAN fresh water every day, and that he is drinking at least a little every day.
However, an orangish colour can also be due to pigmentation in the bladder from certain foods, but should return to normal once those foods have passed through the system within a day.
If the orange continues in spite of plenty of fresh water available, please consult with your nearest exotics vet.
CLEAR/TRANSPARENT & THIN:
Your hamster could be consuming too much water, or foods with high-water content.
Although water is essential for our hamsters, and bearing in mind that some hydration also comes from his moist fresh foods, continuous over-consumption of water can over-tax the kidneys and cause problems over time.
Causes of excessive water intake:
* Thirst. Additional salt is lethal! Always avoid adding salt to your hamster’s food, and never give one of those salt-lick wheel things that pet shops sell, as this could result in excessive thirst and kidney problems.
* Foods like iceberg lettuce, thick spines/veins of leafy vegetables, cucumber (unless as a small occasional treat), thick parts of broccoli/cauliflower stems, etc. have high water content and, aside from the kidneys, can cause runny tummies.
* Indication of diabetes (particularly with dwarf hamsters), hence it is recommended to only serve most fruits and high-sugar veg to dwarfs in a small portion once a week at the most. Syrians can tolerate more, but should also only be offered conservative portions. Please see your exotics vet if you suspect that your hamster has diabetes.
EXCESSIVE URINATION and INCONTINENCE:
This is most common in elderly hamsters and is a sign of the kidneys losing function as they near the end of their lives. Sadly, often not much that can be done for the aged, but your exotics vet could advise a specific diet plan or medication that may ease the condition.
With hamsters in the prime of their lives, PLEASE consult your exotics vet immediately, as this could also be a sign of diabetes or the onset of a bladder infection, which can be treated early to save your hamster much misery and even its life.
Make sure they are not chewing on anything with toxic coatings or inks, e.g. cardboard/paper items with colour printing and/or glossy coating (causes liver and kidney problems).